Frequently Asked Questions


How should I use Economy Map?

That depends on your goals and the context of your decisions. Economy Map was developed, first and foremost, as a resource for public interest advocates and policy-makers. We believe that, by helping to identify which sectors and supply chains generate the most significant direct, intermediate, and final consumption impacts, Economy Map provides a basis for government agencies, non-profit organizations, and funders to prioritize their activities and decisions. In general, we believe that regulatory approaches will be most appropriate for sectors that generate high direct impacts, and market-based, voluntary, consumption-oriented approaches will only be effective for sectors with high final consumption impacts. If you would like assistance making Economy Map relevant to your work, please don’t hesitate to contact us.

How can I support the development of Economy Map?

As a user, you can support the improvement of the software by requesting specific desired features, sending us information about how you have used Economy Map, or identifying problems with the application.  If you are interested in supporting Economy Map financially with a direct contribution or through purchase of one of the limited edition print suites, please contact us at info at economymap dot org.

What new features can I expect in the future?

Pending our ability to continue to secure funding to expand the resource, we plan to enhance the trace environmental and financial flows along specific supply chains.  For example, it will be possible to select a single sector and see the flow of impacts throughout its upstream and downstream supply chains.  We will also be more tightly integrating Economy Map with the CEDA 4.0 database, which includes environmental and human health impact data for 2002, and we will continue this integration with the release of CEDA 5.0, which will include data for 2007.  We are also exploring the possibility of creating a global version of Economy Map.  This would build upon work completed by Dr Sangwon Suh to create an impact model for China, and would likely involve the expertise of other partners.

Why does Economy Map use data from 1998?

Economy Map is in beta development, and the 1998 data were readily available in a highly usable format for this testing phase. While the 1998 data may not be completely current, they still provide a good approximation of the major contributors to different environmental impacts.  Until the application is fully tested, we feel that the use of slightly outdated information is appropriate, since we discourage users from basing significant decisions solely on the output of Economy Map.  Other data sources and expertise should also be consulted.

What were the data sources for the beta version?

Economy Map currently uses data published by the US EPA as part of a 2009 report titled Sustainable Materials Management: The Road Ahead. The report was based on output from the CEDA 3.0 software developed by Dr. Sangwon Suh, which uses Economic Input Ouput Life Cycle Analysis (EIO LCA) to integrate economic data from the annual industry accounts of the US Department of Commerce Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) with environmental data from the US EPA and other sources.  As noted elsewhere, Dr Suh is actively collaborating with us to directly integrate CEDA 4.0 data into forthcoming versions of Economy Map.  Future versions of Economy Map will include more up-to-date data from CEDA, and potentially from other sources (e.g. OpenIO, Carnegie-Mellon EIO-LCA model).

Why can’t I see combined environmental impacts?

Economy Map uses Life Cycle Impact Assessment (LCIA) methodologies to assess the supply chain impacts of industrial activity.  Each type of impact (e.g., global warming, water toxicity, eutrophication) is fundamentally unique and is measured using a different methodology.  Therefore, it is not possible or appropriate to combine these impacts into a single environmental ‘score’ or ranking.  In some cases, impacts of different types may be aggregated using weighting and normalization methods, but these approaches are controversial, since they involve significant value judgments.  Economy Map is designed to enable users to make sense of the complexity of environmental impacts without the necessity of aggregation.

Who pays for the development of Economy Map?

Economy Map is currently being developed as an experimental project, without external sources of funding. If the concept proves useful, we hope to secure funding for ongoing development.

Who is “we”?

For the moment, “we” is Jason Pearson, former President and CEO of the sustainability institute GreenBlue and founder of TRUTHstudio.  Dr Sangwon Suh is an increasingly close collaborator on the project, and it would not be possible without the data that he has produced.  Use of the plural form acknowledges that: 1) this project draws upon the analytical, technical, and data development contributions of many others in the sustainability field, without whose efforts Economy Map would be impossible; and 2) the project will hopefully become the basis for a broader, more collaborative effort in the future.


Why won’t the online version load on my computer?

First, please make sure that you are running the most up-to-date version of Java.  You can download the most recent version here.  It can take up to two minutes for the Java applet to load all of the data, so you may just want to wait a few minutes to see if that’s the problem.  If it still doesn’t load after waiting, please send us an email at info at economymap dot org, letting us know your operating system and browser configuration, and we’ll try to resolve the issue.  In the meantime, you may want to try the download version.

Does it matter which web browser I use?

Yes.  Because of the way that different browsers handle text rendering in Java, you may get better performance from certain browsers.  So far, it appears that Safari provides the best Mac performance, and Internet Explorer provides the best PC performance.  We will update this information if other browsers (e.g. Firefox, Chrome) improve their text rendering capabilities in Java.

Is there a user manual for Economy Map?

At this time, there is no user manual for Economy Map.  A limited number of explanatory and tutorial videos are available on the website, and the three display modes are explained on the help page.  A user manual will be provided in the future.  Most features can be accessed by clicking the buttons at the bottom of the screen, or the arrows at the top of the screen.  A few additional features are described in the ‘Tips and Tricks’ section of the readme.txt file that is included in the download versions of the application.

What are some of the ‘Tips and Tricks’?

Pressing “S” in network display mode will save a layout for a specific impact category.  Pressing “L” will reload the layout.  Pressing “X” will export a PDF of the currently displayed view without buttons.  Holding down the <Ctrl> key while dragging a sector in network mode will force it to snap to one of five column positions, which can be helpful in laying out supply chains.  Holding down the <Shift> key in network mode allows selection of more than one sector.  Holding down the <Alt> key when selecting a sector in network mode selects that sector and all of its immediate downstream suppliers for whom the connecting flow is greater than the currently selected flow threshold.  (NOTE: Some of these features are are only available in the download version, but not in the online version.)

In network mode, can I enlarge the sector names?

The point of the project, as a whole, is to focus attention on the most environmentally significant sectors. So the names of less significant sectors are intentionally small and illegible.  In the future, thEconomy Map may incorporate a “zoom” feature, to view part of the network enlarged.  In the meantime, clicking on a sector will display its name at a minimum font size of 10 pixels, which should be large enough to read.

Why are the sectors organized as a grid in the grid views? Are they in any particular order?

In the grid view, the sectors are currently organized as a grid for the sake of simplicity in the beta version. The order of the sectors is determined by the order of the BEA codes used by the Department of Commerce (see below). In future versions of Economy Map, it should be possible for users to choose (or create) custom layouts for the sectors, including layouts that group sectors by type of activity or supply chain position.

Why do some sectors show no Final Consumption impacts?

Some sectors do not sell directly to consumers or the government. For that reason, those sectors do not display Final Consumption impacts, since none of their onsite or upstream impacts are a result of consumer demand for their goods and services.

The application is running very slow. How can I speed it up?

Unfortunately, the code has not yet been optimized for speed.  Until that update is complete, the best way to speed up performance is to change the flow display threshold. At the lower thresholds, there are more than 40,000 flows being displayed, and this slows down the processor.  The flows display can be controlled by clicking on the flows display button in the network display mode.  You may also want to consider downloading the freestanding version, which runs a little faster.

Why are the axis titles backwards and upside down in the bar graph mode?  Why don’t the toggle buttons work?

These appear to be a bugs in the way that the Java applet runs online.  We are working to resolve these problems.  In the meantime, the download version should work properly.

What do the colors mean?

For the sake of clarity, each of the major environmental impact categories was assigned a random color. For instance, Abiotic Depletion is brown, and Global Warming is orange. This helps to visually communicate the difference between the different maps.

Why do some circles show up as a different color for an impact category in the grid display mode?

In some cases, certain sectors receive environmental “credit” for their activities as a result of the unique character of their activities. In these cases, the environmental impact of the sector is negative, and the size of the differently colored circle reflects the value of the “credit” which this sector receives. For instance, the “Scrap” sector receives “credit’ for recovering and recycling significant amounts of material, thereby offsetting the need for virgin extraction of new material, and the Scrap sector therefore receives credit in some impact categories.

What are the “BEA Codes” that are shown after the sector names in the sidebar?

The BEA Codes are unique identifying codes that are used by the US Department of Commerce Bureau of Economic Analysis to categorize each major industrial sector. In 1998, BEA was still using a system based on the Standard Industrial Classification (SIC) system for classifying commodities and industries. Since then, the BEA has switched to the North American Industrial Classification System (NAICS) codes, and CEDA 4.0 uses these newer codes, as well. Future versions of Economy Map will likely adopt the NAICS system also.